Projecting tourney teams of top conferences

Now that the Super Bowl is finally over — power outage and all — sports fans can finally turn their full attention to the college basketball season. And with Selection Sunday less than six weeks away, what better time is there to start evaluating the resumes of teams?
Some schools have proven themselves to be national title contenders in a season with no clear-cut favorite. Others are perilously close to seeing their NCAA Tournament bubbles pop barring a magical run in the final half of conference play.
What is abundantly clear at this juncture is the Big Ten continues to demonstrate it is the premiere conference in college hoops, with three teams ranked in the top 10, including No. 1 Indiana and No. 3 Michigan. The road to an NCAA title this season very well could go through the Big Ten, which has a legitimate opportunity to become the first conference with three teams in the Final Four since the Big East in 1985.
“This league definitely has to be the best in my era,” said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, in his 18th year at the school. 
“The league is so good and so tough,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles added. “You try not to get overwhelmed. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”
Not to be outdone, the Big East has several quality teams and actually could produce more NCAA Tournament schools than the Big Ten — although there are three more teams to choose from in the Big East for now. 
So, how do the power-six conferences stack up against one another, and which teams appear destined for the big dance? A rundown to catch you up on anything you missed during football season:
In the dance: Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Minnesota
On the bubble: Illinois
Outside looking in: Iowa
INDIANA: Record (20-2). RPI (8). Quality wins: Georgetown, North Carolina, Minnesota, Michigan State and Michigan. Bad losses: None (lost to Butler and Wisconsin).
The skinny: Coach Tom Crean has built the Hoosiers from the ground up into national championship contenders. And if ever there were a time for Indiana to win its first title since 1987, this is it. The Hoosiers have a slew of talented scorers, but standout center Cody Zeller is likely head to the NBA after this season.  
Expectations: Final Four or bust
MICHIGAN: Record (21-2). RPI (7). Quality wins: Pittsburgh, Kansas State, North Carolina State, Minnesota and Ohio State. Bad losses: None (lost to Ohio State and Indiana).
The skinny: With Trey Burke (18 ppg) and Tim Hardaway Jr. (16 ppg), the Wolverines have a backcourt that is unmatched in college basketball. Michigan still has a young team — at times the Wolverines played Indiana last weekend with four freshmen on the court — but is awfully talented.
Expectations: Final Four or bust
MICHIGAN STATE: Record (19-4). RPI (13). Quality wins: Kansas, Ohio State and Minnesota. Bad losses: None (lost to Connecticut, Miami, Minnesota and Indiana).
The skinny: Point guard Keith Appling (14.0 ppg) provides a spark for the Spartans in the backcourt, while Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson do the heavy lifting on the glass. Coach Tom Izzo always has his team prepared to make a run in the NCAA Tournament, and he will again.
Expectations: Sweet 16 or Elite 8
OHIO STATE: Record (17-5). RPI (17). Quality wins: Michigan and Wisconsin. Bad losses: None (lost to Duke, Kansas, Illinois, Michigan State and Michigan).
The skinny: Deshuan Thomas (20 ppg) has developed into one of the best scorers in the country in his junior season. Point guard Aaron Craft is a pest defensively and is solid with the ball, dishing out 4 assists per game. The Buckeyes will be tough to beat in March.
Expectations: Elite 8 or Final Four
WISCONSIN: Record (16-7). RPI (40). Quality wins: Illinois twice, Indiana and Minnesota. Bad losses: Virginia and Iowa (also lost to Florida, Creighton, Marquette, Michigan State and Ohio State).
The skinny: Wisconsin never has finished worse than fourth in the Big Ten during Bo Ryan’s 12-year tenure as coach. That streak may end this season, but the conference is so tough that a fifth-place finish easily will put the Badgers into the NCAA Tournament.
Expectations: Round of 32 or Sweet 16
MINNESOTA: Record (17-6). RPI (8). Quality wins: Memphis, Michigan State and Illinois. Bad losses: Northwestern (also lost to Duke, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Michigan State).
The skinny: This is coach Tubby Smith’s best team since he arrived in Minneapolis. Andre Hollins (14 ppg) is having a breakout season, and the senior leadership of Rodney Williams (12.0 ppg) and Trevor Mbawke (8 rebounds per game) makes the Gophers dangerous.
Expectations: Round of 32 or Sweet 16
In the dance: Syracuse, Marquette, Notre Dame, Cincinnati, Louisville, Georgetown, Pittsburgh
On the bubble: Villanova
Outside looking in: St. John’s
SYRACUSE: Record (19-3). RPI (12). Quality wins: San Diego State, Louisville, Cincinnati, Notre Dame. Bad losses: Temple (also lost to Villanova and Pittsburgh).
The skinny: Syracuse is once again a national title contender, with four players averaging in double figures in scoring (Brandon Triche, C.J. Fair, James Southerland and Michael Carter-Williams). Carter-Williams also is tallying an astounding 8.6 assists per game. He’s the real deal.
Expectations: Final Four or bust
MARQUETTE: Record (16-5). RPI (16). Quality wins: Wisconsin, Georgetown, Pittsburgh. Bad losses: Green Bay (also lost to Butler, Florida, Cincinnati and Louisville).
The skinny: It’s not easy replacing Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom, but the Golden Eagles are once again in position near the top of the Big East. Vander Blue (14 ppg) and Davante Gardner (12 ppg) have picked up the scoring slack.
Expectations: Sweet 16 or Elite 8
NOTRE DAME: Record (18-5). RPI (46). Quality wins: Kentucky, Cincinnati. Bad losses: St. Joseph’s (also lost to Connecticut, St. John’s, Georgetown and Syracuse).
The skinny: The Fighting Irish are one of the most efficient teams in college basketball. They rank fourth in the country in assists per game (18.0) and ninth in field-goal percentage (.493). That’s a recipe for success in the NCAA Tournament, where consistency counts.
Expectations: Sweet 16 or Elite 8
CINCINNATI: Record (18-5). RPI (20). Quality wins: Iowa State, Oregon, Alabama, Pittsburgh, Marquette. Bad losses: None (lost to New Mexico, St. John’s, Notre Dame, Syracuse and Providence).
The skinny: Cincinnati is a physical, up-tempo team that fits right into the Big East this season. The Bearcats rank No. 4 nationally in rebounds per game (42.0). Sean Kilpatrick can score with the best of them. He put up 36 points in an overtime victory against Marquette last month.
Expectations: Sweet 16 or Elite 8
LOUISVILLE: Record (19-4). RPI (8). Quality wins: Missouri, Kentucky, Pittsburgh, Marquette. Bad losses: None (lost to Duke, Syracuse, Villanova and Georgetown).
The skinny: Many considered Louisville to be one of the best teams in the country when the season began, and t he Cardinals haven’t dipped far from that prediction. Russ Smith (18 ppg) and Peyton Siva (10 ppg, 6 apg) are the catalysts for a team that should make a deep NCAA Tournament run.
Expectations: Elite 8 or Final Four
GEORGETOWN: Record (16-4). RPI (28). Quality wins: UCLA, Notre Dame, Louisville. Bad losses: South Florida (also lost to Indiana, Marquette and Pittsburgh).
The skinny: The Hoyas have been inconsistent offensively at times. They scored 58 points in a loss to South Florida and 37 points in an ugly one-point win against Tennessee. Otto Porter Jr. (14.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg) is a budding star and could carry Georgetown in March.
Expectations: Sweet 16 or Elite 8
PITTSBURGH: Record (19-5). RPI (37). Quality wins: Georgetown, Syracuse. Bad losses: Rutgers (also lost to Michigan, Cincinnati, Marquette and Louisville).
The skinny: Things looked bleak for Pitt when it began Big East play 1-3, but the Panthers have rallied. A 65-55 victory against Syracuse certainly enhances Pitt’s tournament resume.
Expectations: Round of 32 or Sweet 16
3. BIG 12
In the dance: Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Iowa State
On the bubble: Oklahoma, Baylor
Outside looking in: None. The rest of the Big 12 stinks.
KANSAS: Record (19-3). RPI (6). Quality wins: Ohio State, Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma. Bad losses: TCU (also lost to Michigan State and Oklahoma State).
The skinny: The Jayhawks saw their 33-game home-court winning streak snapped in an 85-80 loss to Oklahoma State over the weekend, then suffered a stunner at TCU. They’ll need to shore up their guard play for the NCAA Tournament. Still, freshman Ben McLemore (16 ppg) is a stud, and center Jeff Withey (13 ppg, 8 rpg, 4 blocks per game) is a difference-maker in the paint.
Expectations: Final Four or bust
KANSAS STATE: Record (18-4). RPI (24). Quality wins: Florida, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma twice. Bad losses: None (lost to Michigan, Gonzaga, Kansas and Iowa State).
The skinny: Good for Bruce Weber for coming into a situation where he could prove his coaching ability immediately after being fired at Illinois last season. Kansas State still has a shot to dethrone Kansas for a conference crown if it can spring an upset in Allen Fieldhouse and play well down the stretch.
Expectations: Round of 32 or Sweet 16
OKLAHOMA STATE: Record (16-5). RPI (29). Quality wins: North Carolina State, Iowa State, Kansas, Baylor. Bad losses: Virginia Tech (also lost to Gonzaga, Kansas State, Oklahoma and Baylor).
The skinny: Marcus Smart was outstanding with 25 points and nine rebounds in an upset victory at Kansas over the weekend, and Markel Brown hit the winner vs. Baylor on Tuesday. The Cowboys have won four straight and appear to be peaking at the right time.
Expectations: Round of 32 or Sweet 16
IOWA STATE: Record (16-6). RPI (42). Quality wins: Kansas State, Baylor, Oklahoma. Bad losses: Texas Tech (also lost to Cincinnati, UNLV, Iowa, Kansas and Oklahoma State).
The skinny: Fred Hoiberg was a legend in Ames during his playing days at Iowa State. But he may wind up even more popular as the team’s coach, if that is even possible. Iowa State’s 83-64 drubbing of Oklahoma on Monday night separated the Cyclones from much of the Big 12. With games against Kansas State, Kansas and Oklahoma State remaining, Iowa State can boost its resume even more.
Expectations: Round of 32 or Sweet 16
4. ACC
In the dance: Duke, Miami, North Carolina State

On the bubble: North Carolina, Virginia

Outside looking in: Florida State 
DUKE: Record (19-2). RPI (1). Quality wins: Kentucky, Minnesota, Louisville, Ohio State. Bad losses: None (lost to North Carolina State and Miami).
The skinny: Yes, Duke was blown out in embarrassing fashion against Miami (90-63), but the Blue Devils have responded nicely with three straight victories. Duke already has beaten some of the best in college basketball, and with Mason Plumlee (17.6 ppg, 10.8 rpg) and Seth Curry (16.3 ppg) leading the way, this is another national title contender for Coach K.
Expectations: Final Four or bust
MIAMI: Record (18-3). RPI (2). Quality wins: Michigan State, North Carolina, Duke, North Carolina State. Bad losses: Florida Gulf Coast, Indiana State (also lost to Arizona).
The skinny: This Miami team is certainly not the same one that lost 63-51 against lowly Florida Gulf Coast in November. The Hurricanes are 9-0 in the ACC and are 2 1/2 games clear of Duke. You don’t want to see these guys in your bracket come the NCAA Tournament.
Expectations: Sweet 16 or Elite 8
NORTH CAROLINA STATE: Record (16-6). RPI (19). Quality wins: Duke, Connecticut, North Carolina. Bad losses: Maryland, Wake Forest (also lost to Oklahoma State, Michigan, Virginia and Miami).
The skinny: Despite a solid record, the Wolfpack haven’t lived up to expectations that put them as one of the three best teams in college basketball before the season. Still, there is plenty of time to right the ship. C.J. Leslie (15.7 ppg) and Richard Howell (12.8 ppg, 10.9 rpg) will be the players to watch if NC State is to turn things around. 
Expectations: Sweet 16 or Elite 8
5. SEC
In the dance: Florida, Missouri, Ole Miss, Kentucky
On the bubble: Alabama
Outside looking in: Arkansas
FLORIDA: Record (18-3). RPI (4). Quality wins: Wisconsin, Marquette, Missouri, Ole Miss. Bad losses: Arkansas (Also lost to Arizona and Kansas State).
The skinny: If it’s possible to fly under the radar as one of the top teams in the country, the Gators managed to do it in winning 10 straight and rising to No. 2. With Indiana, Duke and Michigan sharing time as No. 1, much of the national attention has been focused elsewhere. But Tuesday’s loss at Arkansas raises the question of whether the Gators are legit. Four players average in double figures in scoring, led by Kenny Boynton (13 ppg).
Expectations: Final Four or bust
MISSOURI: Record (16-5). RPI (34). Quality wins: VCU, Illinois, Alabama. Bad losses: LSU (also lost to Louisville, UCLA, Ole Miss and Florida).
The skinny: Missouri has fared just fine in its inaugural season in the SEC. The Tigers are well balanced, as evidenced by the five players who score in double figures on a nightly basis. They aren’t as explosive they were as a season ago, but the pressure to succeed on the same level also isn’t there. That could be a good thing with this group.
Expectations: Sweet 16 or Elite 8
OLE MISS: Record (17-4). RPI (42). Quality wins: Missouri. Bad losses: Middle Tennessee, Indiana State (also lost to Kentucky and Florida).
The skinny: Ole Miss doesn’t have a ton of great victories to speak of at this point in the season. But with 10 regular-season games remaining — plus the SEC Tournament — it’s possible the Rebels could reach 25 wins. And who wouldn’t want to see guard Marshall Henderson (19.5 ppg) chuck it from the cheap seats in the big dance?
Expectations: Round of 32 or Sweet 16
KENTUCKY: Record (15-6). RPI (48). Quality wins: Ole Miss. Bad losses: Texas A&M (also lost to Duke, Notre Dame, Baylor, Louisville and Alabama).
The skinny: As this season proves, it isn’t always easy to plug in freshmen and expect to compete at a national championship level. The Wildcats haven’t won the games this season against most marquee opponents, but they’re steadily improving. Archie Goodwin (14.8 ppg) and Nerlens Noel (10.6 ppg, 9.5 rpg) are demonstrating why they were so highly touted out of high school.
Expectations: Round of 32 or Sweet 16
6. PAC-12
In the dance: Arizona, Oregon, UCLA
On the bubble: Arizona State, Colorado
Outside looking in: California, Washington
ARIZONA: Record (20-2). RPI (3). Quality wins: Florida, Miami, San Diego State, Colorado and Stanford. Bad losses: None (lost to Oregon and UCLA).
The skinny: Mark Lyons is taking advantage of his opportunity at Arizona after transferring from Xavier. He leads the team in scoring (15 ppg) and assists (3 apg) and is a big reason the Wildcats won their first 14 games. Arizona is the best in the West.
Expectations: Final Four or bust
OREGON: Record (18-4). RPI (26). Quality wins: UNLV, Arizona, UCLA. Bad losses: UTEP (also lost to Cincinnati, Stanford and California).
The skinny: The Ducks are flying high, tied with Arizona atop the Pac-12. Oregon has five players averaging in double figures in scoring, which makes the Ducks even more difficult to stop.
Expectations: Round of 32 or Sweet 16
UCLA: Record (16-6). RPI (44). Quality wins: Missouri, Arizona, Colorado. Bad losses: Cal Poly, USC (also lost to Georgetown, San Diego State, Oregon and Arizona State).
The skinny: The low point of the season had to be a 70-68 loss to Cal Poly on Nov. 25. UCLA won 10 straight games in December and January to break its funk and jump back into the NCAA Tournament picture. Freshman Shabazz Muhammed has lived up to the hype, leading the team in scoring (18.4 ppg).
Expectations: Round of 32 or Sweet 16

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